Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ice Pirates of the Snowdeeps

No, not those Ice Pirates.  But it is "Talk Like A Pirate Day", so I'm setting aside my usual curmudgeonliness and doing a post about pirates.  Sort of.

I finally finished up the arctic/tundra dungeon I was working on for The Secret DM's dungeon contest and sent it on its merry way last night.  I can't post it here yet, as the contest is ongoing, but I can certainly talk about the thought process behind it and get into some of the cutting-room-floor stuff, including those eponymous Ice Pirates.

Once I had decided to enter the contest as a writing exercise, I knew early on I wanted to go 'arctic'.  I wanted ice and snow and probably an ice para-elemental, because I love para-elementals for no good reason.  So the dungeon in question is carved into a glacier.  Here's the thing, though - I don't normally care for dungeons, certainly not big ones, so setting about writing one was a bit of a challenge.  I ended up with more of an 'adventure area' than a full-blown dungeon: four sets of chambers within the glacier, plus a potentially-friendly humanoid village outside the glacier.  Is it a 'proper' dungeon?  Maybe not.  It's pretty deadly, though - this was a "first edition feel" contest, after all - and there are a couple of really nasty encounters in there (the para-elemental, a dragon, a ghost, plus assorted lesser rabble including a group of brigands led by a foxwoman).  I'm pleased that the para-elemental and the foxwoman continue my attempt to use stuff from Monster Manual II as much as possible in Wampus Country.  And of course I loved the village of polar bears; yet what tickled me most of all was the idea of dwarven pirates on ski-boats, sailing across the icy tundra; they appear on the wilderness encounter table in the glacier-dungeon, but here's some more detail.


The region of the Wampus Country to the far north, in the tundra and taiga, is known generally as the Snowdeeps.  It is a place where few civilized men travel, as there is little profit in it; the vast, frozen wastes are dominated by wildlife, assorted monstrous beasts, and several dwarven settlements amongst the windswept mountains.  Best-known pockets of civilization amidst the blowing snow include the fortress-towns of Rimespire and Doomhollow, and the barbarian trading-post at Dropfinger Pass.

Although many of the dwarven towns and cities are either wholly subterranean or connected by a network of trade-tunnels, travel aboveground is also necessary, and is accomplished by means of various sorts of wind-powered landships.  These craft generally resemble yachts or ships of the sea, modified to be mounted on ski or skate-like protrusions beneath the hull of the craft.  Larger snowships can easily carry cargo (including livestock) and move at a respectable clip during the constant windstorms in the north.  The smaller sloops and yachts are often modified to be quite fast, despite all the garish decoration hanging from the gunwales.

Naturally, wherever there is transit, piracy springs up.  Several small bands of dwarven "ice pirates" have recently begun attacking both merchant snowships and expeditions on foot.  Typically these pirates use a smaller, fast ship armed with a deck gun; on at least one occasion three or four pirate racers have teamed up to take down a massive armed barge.  Typically a crew of ice pirates will have one or two settlements they call "home", and raid against other settlements; in this sense they are sometimes as much privateers as pirates.  Snow-racer culture has taken hold of the dwarven youth for the past fifty years, and every beardling of the North apes pirate fashion and dreams of having their own snow-sloop to race at furious speeds.  As such, most of the snow-dwarves encountered outside the fortress-cities will be of this sort: young, ambitious, desperate to prove their masculinity, and festooned with both weapons and ostentatious jewelry.  Although firearms are sometimes imported from the south, most revolvers one sees in the Snowdeeps are of dwarven make.  The most popular style of pistol actually ejects the cartridge from the left side of the weapon, and this was initially considered a dwarven technical advance; however, hot cartridges tend to singe beards, so a courteous ice-pirate turns his pistol sideways before firing, so that the cartridge falls downward rather than jettisoning into his fellow's nicely-oiled beard.


1 - dangerous ice pirates aboard a gaudy snow-sloop (deck gun, rifles, hand weapons)
"Hand it over, quick-like, or we'll hobble ya and leave ya for the tundra-wights!"

2 - dwarven hunting expedition, armed to the teeth, in an armored yacht (deck gun, harpoon guns, rifles)  "D'ye know what remorhaz meat fetches back in Doomhollow, lad?"

3 - wealthy dwarf's domed pleasure-yacht, decently armed
"Come aboard, friends, there's cinnamon-mead and morally-bankrupt shorties for all of ye!"

4 - group of 1d4+1 ice-catamaran or snow-sailboard racers hot-dogging and doing sick tricks
"Y'wanna follow us to the party, you're gonna have to move faster than that!"

5 - armed & armored snow-cutter on a punitive expedition
"Enough's enough.  We'll show those frost-goblins who rules the 'deeps."

6 - large merchant vessel with 1d4 escort sloops, moving cargo between cities
"Time is money, friend - if you want aboard, ye best be climbin' that ladder, 'cause we hain't stoppin'!"

Goggles or similar to protect from whiteout are ubiquitous.

1 - pirate coat in bright colors
2 - tricorn with ridiculous feathers
3 - bandana tied around the head
4 - tricorn, worn backwards or sideways
5 - mohawk, dreadlocks, or hair-spikes
6 - sash or cummerbund with coins sewn onto it
7 - oversized pantaloons, extra pistol tucked in waistband
8 - huge bejewelled belt-buckle
9 - swashbuckler boots in colorful leather, meticulously maintained and cleaned
10 - silk/satin jacket and pants in matching color scheme


  1. I always enjoy your random table additions - it appears Wampus is in need of artillery rules though what with cannons atop towers and deck guns on ice sloops.

  2. Yeah, I need some artillery rules to steal, really.

  3. Artillery rules are pretty basic: save or die. save equals shrapnel damage using the last dice the player rolled.

    1. That's good enough most the time - but how does that work when the ammunition is a live alligator? Alligator shot being a hot topic in Wampus lately.

    2. Whatever I ended up doing, it would have to be of a similar complexity level to what Jez suggested. I feel like as soon as I have to consult a chart to find out the material hardness of a building, I've already lost.

  4. I love this post. Another opportunity for plagiarism.

  5. Very cool. I too am a fan of the para-elementals.

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